On Tuesday the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that Progress Missouri, a liberal activist group, did not have a right to record Senate committee hearings under Missouri's Sunshine Law. That's a problem; if our elected officials are going to have blanket discretion to put the kibosh on recordings intended to keep them honest and the public informed, that luxury will come at the cost of the public interest and the public trust.
The Kansas City Star reports:
Missouri law says a public governmental body “shall allow for the recording by audiotape, videotape, or other electronic means of any open meeting” and “may establish guidelines regarding the manner in which such recording is conducted so as to minimize disruption to the meeting.”
Senate rules give committee chairmen the discretion to allow cameras so long as they don’t disrupt the decorum of committee meetings. And the Missouri Constitution says each legislative chamber “may determine the rules of its own proceedings.”
The lawsuit by Progress Missouri says it was denied permission to record four Senate committee hearings last February and March, and on several occasions the Senate did not record the meetings either. [Emphasis mine]
As we noted two years ago, one of the key elements to ensuring good government is transparency, and while we do not agree with Progress Missouri about much, the documentation of public meetings is one issue where our positions align. Missouri law is very clear that recordings shall be allowed at public hearings, and that their regulation should ensure only that such recordings are not overly obtrusive.
The public should be able to record these hearings as they choose, but if they do not, then the Senate should be recording every public hearing they have. That the Senate is not already recording each hearing covered by the Sunshine Law itself is cause for concern, but that our elected representatives would go on to dispute the rights of private individuals to do so in their place is even more alarming. The Senate should change its recording policies to carry out the intent of the Sunshine Law: to ensure the public can see and hear what its government is doing, and why.